Suzuka’s dark­est day

F1 Racing - - FINISHING STRAIGHT -

A wet and gloomy Ja­panese GP be­came darker still, fol­low­ing Jules Bianchi’s ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent

That Sun­day morn­ing Jules Bianchi’s fu­ture took on a se­cret shine. He’d been strongly linked with a move to Sauber for 2015, con­tin­u­ing his el­e­va­tion through the Fer­rari-pow­ered F1 ranks to­wards a likely grad­u­a­tion into scar­let for 2016.

A gifted young racer, with mati­nee-idol-ne fea­tures, he seemed in­creas­ingly to be one of those as­sured fu­ture stars who, while learn­ing their craft with an F1 min­now to­day, would to­mor­row be con­tend­ing, in the thick of it.

“If a seat were to be­come avail­able at Fer­rari, would you feel ready to go there?” he was asked dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on pre-race Thurs­day.

“Well, yes, of course I feel ready,” he replied, with calm, though not cocky, as­sur­ance. “I have been work­ing for that since I’m in the [Fer­rari] Academy in 2009 and I feel ready for sure. It looks like the log­i­cal step for me.”

But on lap 42 of the 2014 Ja­panese Grand Prix, ev­ery­thing changed. Bianchi’s Marus­sia MR03, car num­ber 17, left the track at Turn 7 and struck a cir­cuit res­cue ve­hi­cle, de­ployed to re­move the Sauber of Adrian Su­til, which had spun into the bar­ri­ers a lap be­fore.

In the re­sult­ing col­li­sion Bianchi was gravely in­jured and was taken after ex­tri­ca­tion to the cir­cuit med­i­cal cen­tre. From there he was trans­ferred by am­bu­lance to the nearby Mie Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, where he un­der­went surgery for a “se­vere head in­jury”. He re­mained in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion, in in­ten­sive care, as F1 Rac­ing closed for press.

The se­ri­ous­ness of Bianchi’s in­jury be­came ap­par­ent the mo­ment cir­cuit TV cam­eras icked to an im­age of Marus­sia CEO Graeme Low­don, step­ping stone-faced from the pit­wall to sprint to the med­i­cal cen­tre. In an in­stant, even be­fore news of Bianchi’s con­di­tion had been conrmed, the race re­sult had ceased to be of any im­por­tance. But a race had been held, and in the con­text of this year’s close-fought world cham­pi­onship it was an im­por­tant one – even if, in the con­text of a life-threat­en­ing in­jury to one of its con­tes­tants, it didn’t mat­ter at all.

Lewis Hamil­ton won, in a bril­liant dis­play of con­trolled ag­gres­sion and deft mas­tery of ex­cep­tion­ally treach­er­ous wet con­di­tions, on this most chal­leng­ing of cir­cuits. And in so do­ing, he edged away again from his team-mate and ti­tle ri­val Nico Ros­berg to ex­tend his cham­pi­onship lead to ten points with four races to go.

He likened the groove he found to that which he en­joyed at the 2008 Bri­tish Grand Prix – a race he won by more than a minute en route to his rst world ti­tle. And while this per­for­mance was noth­ing like as dom­i­nant – his mar­gin to sec­ond-placed Ros­berg was nine seconds – he still had to pro­duce some­thing rather spe­cial to win, by snatch­ing the lead from pole man and early leader Nico.

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